How to Collaborate for Better Design (From a Non-Creative)

— Lauren Cole 

Let me start by saying I wouldn’t classify myself as a creative person by any means. I can’t draw, I can’t think of catchy phrases and I don’t understand how Joanna Gaines made shiplap look so incredible. The only creative “gift” I possess is writing pun-ridden emails—classic dad humor.

But at our Design Week Portland event, I learned that while you might not think you’re wired to be a creative, the power of collaboration can uncover the best of ideas.

Thanks to our panelists, Colleen Purdy, Experience Designer, Airbnb, Douglas Montague, Executive Creative Director for Microsoft, and Anne Alo, Creative Director at WE Communications, who unpacked these insights for us.


Shut up and listen

What’s the first thing you do in a brainstorm session? Throw out as many creative ideas as you can, of course. But, surprisingly, the first thing our creative experts do when collaborating is listen. Rather than impose ideas on their team, creatives know listening is their most valuable tool because it will lead the entire team to the best ideas. Douglas Montague says a fundamental part of creating a culture of collaboration is to “listen, empathize, and try to understand the business. Before I can create something everyone likes, I have to be able to speak their language.”


Let your creative ideas guide you

You might not have the answers right away, and that’s okay. Colleen Purdy noted, “A lot of our culture of collaboration is about building bridges and learning from each other’s specialized roles.” There are no bad ideas because they will eventually lead you to the creative solution. Trust your ideas and learn from those around you.


Get uncomfortable

No one gets great abs without pushing through the pain and discomfort of doing planks over and over again. The same can be said for creative collaboration. As Anne Alo so eloquently said, “I would call [collaboration] messy AF.” Each day we must embrace a new process, or be willing to let go of a process that helped us in the past.


Define your purpose

From the Time’s Up movement's black Golden Globes attire to the army of Mark Zuckerberg cardboard cutouts on the Capitol lawn, design is a powerful storytelling tool. Putting a purposeful lens on creative collaboration can generate revolutionary ideas that call others to take action. Douglas believes “great communication can move people to do something.”


Find what inspires YOU!

I always believed creative professionals found inspiration from some abstract, intangible place that I couldn’t access, but inspiration can come from the things you already love. For Colleen, it’s stand-up comedians and Netflix. Douglas loves studying art history, while Anne turns the Jurassic Park theme song up to eleven. Personally, I’m impatiently waiting for Drake’s new album to get my juices flowing.

We’re living a world of uncertainty, and design proves to make a real impact. It transcends barriers and tells a common story. But the best stories come from many voices. At our Pixels to People panel, we only began to discover how to take your design to the next level through collaboration.