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What is collaborative design (and why is it so important)?

Design is more than making things look pretty; it’s solving problems as a team.

Design by Alice Korenyouk

Profile picture of Nick Babich


5 min read

Design is more than making things look pretty; it’s solving problems. Most modern products are highly complex projects that present companies with problems a single person can’t solve on their own. That’s where collaborative design comes in: teamwork leads to better solutions. 

Of course, this kind of magic only happens when people collaborate effectively, which why we've built Wix Studio for seamless collaboration. Designers can now co-create websites in real-time, manage roles & permissions, and use comments to stay in sync.

These features borrow from the principles of strong collaborative design. Below, we discuss what collaborative design is, and how to leverage principles of collaborative design in an agency’s web design process.

Image of a team of designers collaborating on a design in Wix Studio
Wix Studio allows teammates to work on the same website in real-time.

What collaborative design is (and isn't)

As the name suggests, collaborative design is the work of multiple people involved in product or web design. It's a process of co-creation, and conceptualizing a design idea. But there are two common misconceptions about this term.

First, the word “design” gives a false impression that this type of collaboration is solely about designers. Not true. Actual design results from cross-departmental work, which also includes developers, marketing and sales specialists, UX researchers, stakeholders and clients.

The other misconception about collaborative design is that it's a single phase in the design process. But collaboration isn't a distinct phase. It's a principle that should be embedded in each phase of your design process. (Related: The iterative design process: a full guide for UX designers)

Varying team members with access to a particular web design allows for real-time design collaboration.
Set custom permissions to keep your project on track

Why is collaboration so important in design?

Here are a few benefits that collaboration brings to product design:

Collaboration unlocks creativity

When different team members work on a design together, the result is often more holistic, making for a better end product. Engaging diverse voices whether within your agency or external clients and customers leads to new perspectives you otherwise wouldn't have known.

Collaboration unifies the team around a shared goal

Having a collaborative UX design process helps team members understand the ultimate goal they want to achieve with their design. This goal becomes a north star that motivates people to work together on a problem systematically.

Collaboration creates a better sense of ownership

When team members participate in creating a product/service regularly, they start to care more about the outcome. As a result, they are more willing to deliver their best work.

What are the different types of collaboration?

Collaboration can happen between individuals, small teams or whole businesses. Here are the different ways agencies practice collaborative design:

Team collaboration

Team collaboration is the most common type of business collaboration in the workplace. Members of a particular team interact with each other to achieve a specific goal. For example, UX and UI designers interact with each other to create the best possible look and feel for a future product. (Read more: How Astrid Stavro makes her design team more collaborative)

Cross-departmental collaboration

Different teams within a specific organization interact with each other to complete a particular task. For example, the design team interacts with the sales & marketing team to create a better look for product packaging. 

Community collaboration

People join a community because they have one or a few shared interests. People in the community can exchange ideas and experiences—for example, design community members can share their expertise in product design.

A community can be internal (membership is limited to a particular organization) or external (members of different organizations can join the community). Indie Slack communities like Designer Hangout and Nomads Talk, or professional associations like AIGA, can be great communities for any creatives to join. 

Strategic alliance

A strategic alliance is a type of collaboration that occurs when two or more agencies or organizations share the same goal and work together towards it. This type of collaboration typically happens between teams that belong to those organizations. For example, designers from organization A interact with designers from organization B because the organizations want to integrate services that A offers into a product offered by B.

What is a collaborative website?

A collaborative website means designing a website together in real-time. Designers can provide their input—exchange files and messages, have a text or video chat, etc. Instead of offline, face-to-face collaboration sessions, product creators rely on collaborative websites to have those same kinds of communications virtually.

Collaboration isn’t limited to communication, it's also about co-creation. In order to make this level of design collaboration possible, the team of designers will need to work with a CMS like Wix Studio CMS that allows for collaborative work and custom permissions.

A collaborative website is a website that allows users to work collaboratively in real-time. In order to make this level of collaboration possible, designers will need to work with a CMS platform like WIx Studio that allows for collaborative work and custom permissions. 
A CMS platform like Wix Studio allows for more collaborative work.

How to design a collaborative workspace

So, what does it take to work better as a team? First and foremost, design collaboration is about creating an environment that helps people work with each other. 

Indeed, creating a purely collaborative workspace is not an easy task. Not only do you need to establish the right processes and find tools that work for your organization, but you also need to foster communication and motivate people to interact with each other regularly. There are no hard and fast rules on how to establish design collaboration that works for all organizations, but these tips are a good starting place:

Create a deliberate space for collaboration

Your team’s collaboration space can be a physical space (i.e., conference room) or a recurring online meeting. No matter which medium you choose, you need to ensure that it satisfies the needs of your audience. The space should have essential tools (i.e. sticky notes, whiteboard) as well as proper moderation (everyone should be heard, not just the loudest voice in the room). 

Plan your collaboration sessions

There is no point in inviting people to join together just for the sake of gathering. Have a clear agenda for each session you want to organize. What do you want to accomplish, and how will you do it within the timespan you have together? Have a strategy going into the session.

Value everyone's voice

When people feel their contributions were received well, they are more willing to participate in collaborative activities. It’s possible to motivate people to share by offering examples of how some ideas from previous sessions turned into valuable solutions.

This is vital for collaboration between designers and developers, because the opinions of both departments can have a significant impact on a project (check how to work with a developer as a designer).

To ensure your team collaborates well, be sure to: Embrace feedback and design critique, align on terminology, pick the right tools, schedule regular check-ins, and create spaces for social connection.
The right tools can lead to more effective collaboration.

How to collaborate with other designers

Design collaboration is a way of working that requires constant nurturing in how we interact in a team environment, and how we produce work. Some tips to keep in mind:

Embrace feedback and design critique

Holding regular feedback sessions and critiques can help designers produce better work. The key is knowing that your collaborators will have different ideas and perspectives on certain design elements. Integrating multiple voices often leads to more well-rounded end products and services.

Align on terminology to streamline communication

Having a shared language is key to effective communication. Clarify any acronyms and project-specific language early on. It’s usually a good idea to keep terminology as simple as possible, especially when it comes to collaborating across countries, cultures or industries.

Pick the right tools

The right collaborative design tools will support your team’s way of working. For example, if you’re holding a team brainstorming session or sprint cycle, the right tool might be one where you can virtually track and organize all of your team’s ideas.

Schedule regular check-ins

Regular check-ins are vital to ensure collaborators are excited about the project and have a clear path forward. Check-ins can come in the form of weekly team meetings or daily stand-ups, depending on the pace of a project.

Create spaces for social connection for remote workers

With remote work, it’s important to provide digital spaces where team members can nourish their social relationships and feel like they’re a part of a larger community. This might take the form of dedicated Slack channels (or huddles) for posting news, inspiration and personal updates.

Collaboration leads to better customer experience

Some things just can't be done alone. Make collaborative design a best practice in your agency to create cross-disciplinary websites that wow your clients.

Design a site collaboratively on Wix Studio.

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