Accelerating Your Project With Collaborative Website Design: Can You Really Have It All?

Everyone has heard the old adage, “you can build it fast, good, or cheap…pick two.” In most situations, the reality is that you can’t have it all. But what if you could?

Because collaborative design maximizes the possibility of achieving all three of these options, it may be worth considering for your next website project. But before choosing a collaborative design approach, it’s important to understand what it involves. It’s not a “one size fits all” methodology, and only works well in specific situations.

What is collaborative design?

Collaborative design (also known as “participatory design”) is an approach to innovation that integrates the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success. Because of its hands-on, team-based approach, many companies are now considering the use of collaborative design for website projects.

There are normally three phases in the collaborative design process. When applied to a website project, they include:

    • Context: the discovery and problem definition phase. Developers, designers, and stakeholders collaborate around a whiteboard to illustrate the complex challenges that will then motivate problem solving.
    • Ideation: the concept development and group brainstorming phase. Designers and developers take ideas that have been generated by the group and produce a series of quick, functional prototypes that will evolve into the final solution.
    • Implementation:the design and development phase. The final design is integrated into a web application framework created by developers, resulting in a rich, interactive user experience.

When does collaborative design work best?

Although collaborative design is an emerging trend in website development, it isn’t necessarily a viable design approach for each and every project.

Here are key criteria to determine if collaborative design could work for your web project:

    1. Stakeholder Commitment: The most crucial requirement for collaborative design is full stakeholder commitment. This is typically hard to come by, as executives need to buy into the process and commit significant amounts of time for collaborative, in-person working sessions. You also will need the designers, developers and other key web resources on board that are knowledgeable and excited about the approach from the start.
    2. Contained Project/Site:Collaborative design often works best for more contained projects with a limited or known set of pages (specific section of a website, complex UX challenges, micro-site, etc.) versus larger enterprise sites with multiple integration points and numerous stakeholders.
    3. Focused Goals & Outcome: The project may be complex, but for collaborative design to work you need to know the purpose and intended outcome of the site. It helps to know the goals at the get-go, even if you don’t yet know the best way to implement solutions.
    4. Short Project Timeframes: Collaborative design is a strong option when timelines are compressed and all the above criteria are present. Since the approach is based on in-person brainstorming sessions with all team members involved, there is less back-and-forth and reviewing of documents—streamlining the approval process.

Collaborative design brings all the stakeholders together to accelerate the decision making process. This allows the entire team to have immediate and constant input on the design process with rapid prototyping and feedback to the team.

Typically, collaborative methodology can reduce the time-to-market by 25% or more compared to traditional development methodologies. The faster project speed is attributed to fewer review and feedback sessions, rapid functional prototyping, and less time spent on documentation.

Collaborative design in action

Celerity recently used this approach tosuccessfully redesign an interactive site for National Geographic’s Genographic 2.0 project within a very short timeframe.Because the proposed site was a complex redesign of an existing portal, the development process began with clear goals, which enabled more focused solutions to usability challenges. Collaborative design allowed the team to quickly solve the design challenges of transforming complex genetic science into an intimate storytelling experience. The end result was a breakthrough, interactive web experience that has won several awards.

A website should be agile and ever evolving based on the needs of the people that own it and use it. Collaborative design is a great way to deliver appropriate and actionable results and give creative license to leaders who aren’t trained as designers. But before embracing it for your next project, make sure your entire team, including executive leaders, are bought into the approach and that the parameters for your project meet those outlined above.