3 Ways to Get Content and Design to Collaborate

by LISA O

I’ve worked with more than a dozen designers, both visual and interactive, over the past 20 years. These relationships haven’t always been of the simpatico kind, which is a real shame. If anyone should be joined at the hip at work, it’s the content person and the designer.

When these two disciplines effectively collaborate, they’re unstoppable. When they don’t, it’s like watching two whiny toddlers wrestle over a sippy cup. No one wins, including your business.

Let’s explore three simple but effective things you can do to facilitate a great working relationship for your UX pros.

1. Play matchmaker

When it comes to building a high-performing UX team, leaders should focus on personality fit just as much as they do skills. If you’re lucky enough to have a pool of content designers and visual/interactive designers to choose from, you’ll need to sharpen your matchmaking abilities.

Pair people together who compliment and challenge one another effectively. They don’t just have to produce results, but results that solve a real customer problem, are innovative, and surpass or meet business expectations. You can only get these results if you have people who respect one another enough to push each other’s boundaries and thinking effectively together.

Here are a few great pairings:

  • Doers and thinkers: You’ll keep the doers from moving too quickly, but push the thinkers into action.
  • Strategists and tacticians: You’ll have someone who’s looking at the big picture, while the other who’s focused on the steps it’ll take to get there.
  • Artisans and experimenters: These two will strike a great balance between “good enough” and “pixel perfect.”

2. Keep their focus

Just like any other discipline on your teams, UX needs to know what they’re doing, why, and what are the expected outcomes. That’s easy enough.

The real challenge comes when they produce an experience that doesn’t follow any of those guidelines and goals. This can be baffling for managers and leaders, but it’s really quite easy once you get to the heart of what makes UX tick.

Creative thinking is at the heart of what they do.

These people are trained to think creatively. They get their energy and passion by thinking creatively. They are hired and paid to think creatively. And sometimes as a result, creativity in itself can become more important than strategy and outcomes. Thus, they produce work that is fulfilling to them, but not to your business.

So what are you to do? Keep them laser focused. I have a few simple ideas that really work. To keep your time and sanity in check, a project or program manager can implement these for you (although I recommend that you’re present for work reviews):

  • Create a constant reminder: Post the project goals for everyone to see and begin every meeting with this summary. Every person on your team should hear these goals so often that they can recite them in their sleep. It’s hard to deviate from strategy when it’s repeated day after day.
  • Have frequent and public reviews: Establish project share-out timelines where all work is reviewed, allowing ample time to course-correct. And post the project’s progress on a massive wall for everyone to see. You’d be surprised how quickly a project gets back on track when it’s shared publicly.
  • Hold them accountable for outcomes: Annual goals, reviews, and bonuses can help employees understand the connection between what they do and how they are rewarded. Frank and frequent conversations about how well their doing can help you avoid any unpleasant surprises.

3. Enforce cooperation and collaboration

I’ve witnessed too many interaction designers develop a complete experience all by themselves, and then ask content folks to ‘fill in the gaps.’ If this behavior is left unchecked, you’re looking at many, many dire consequences. The biggest one being that you’ll get one narrow solution. And when content designers are reduced to a proofreader level, you’re leaving a huge gap in resource efficiencies.

Here are a few things you can do to facilitate a great working relationship:

  • Set expectations early: Without telling them how to do it, let them know that you expect their relationship to be mutual respectful and productive.
  • Get them happy together: Physically move them so they’re sitting side by side. Ideally, all UX in your group should sit together and share a collaborative space.
  • Hear both sides of the story: Ask them to give joint presentations during reviews. If one of them is doing all the talking, you may have a steamroller on your hands.