Work in groups or as individuals in your IxD work

17 Nov 2009 - 7:01am
4 years ago
14 replies
1293 reads
Dave Malouf
2005

I know that everything we do is collaborative in that we have to work with
biz & tech and often other roles of design like visual, copy, research, etc.

But my question is how often do you find yourself collaborating on group
work in your specific role as an IxD or UX designers?

I ask this question b/c when I look back on my work career there were very
few moments when I did work in a group. I did have reviews with others and
even worked on the same project at points, but barely ever did group work.

So my question really is, is the focus in design education on group work
(from what I can see from all the students saying they only have group
projects) map against the real world practice that these students are going
to be lumped into when they graduate?

I think I have this aching feeling that b/c of educations shortened "product
lifecycles" (10 wk quarters and 15 wk semesters) that we do group projects
to get "big results" out of students.

Further, I wonder if we map IxD education too much against say industrial
design education methods, instead of either coming up with our own or
looking towards a more appropriate model. Does graphic design edu have as
much group work? hmm? i think I'll go and find out.

BTW, the last 2 group project classes I did with my students had the
annoying problem of finding just the right group size for the needs of the
project. Invariably 2 problems arose for the groups:
1) bottlenecks b/c of tools
2) students being left w/o enough work to show their participation level was
equal to the rest of the team

I'd be interested in others thoughts regarding this.

- dave

--
Dave Malouf
http://davemalouf.com/
http://twitter.com/daveixd
http://scad.edu/industrialdesign
http://ixda.org/

Comments

17 Nov 2009 - 8:44am
Paul Eisen
2007

Dave asks, "...how often do you find yourself collaborating on group
work in your specific role as an IxD or UX designers?"

Here's one data point: Over the past 20 years, in the role of IxD or
UX design, I'd estimate that somewhere around 50% of the projects
I've worked on were collaborative with other IxD/UX designers. As
for the group size, it was almost always two people, and on occasion
three.

This is just a rough estimate, as it's not something I've ever
tracked.

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17 Nov 2009 - 9:44am
Dru
2009

@dave - group work and your theory of 15 weeks to 11 weeks is probably
spot on.
@Paul - group size def impacts end result, speed, output.

Agile methodology sort of forces the "group" endeavor and since the
company I am with is in the infant stages of adoption, it yet remains
to be clarified how well the IxD/UX dept person's role will be
carried out. From what I can tell though, I think "group
collaboration" is an underlying theme to the SCRUM approach. The
"groupieness" will not necessarily be interacting with a fellow
"IxD-er" as I think you both are actually talking about, but it
will mean participation in a group. Stand by.

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17 Nov 2009 - 9:45am
jabbett
2008

Dave--

I think it's great that you're asking this question.

A lot depends on where you work. Especially in small entrepreneurial teams
or in larger organizations that are new to interaction design, it's rare for
group design work to occur since there's only one designer.

As my team's only IxD -- probably the only IxD in all of Boston's hospitals,
unfortunately -- I typically do my design work independently with frequent
group review. I will occasionally organize group sessions so that
developers and managers can exchange idea. Sometimes I head to the
whiteboard with a developer to hash out the details of a complex UI
component. Do those count?

It may be worth some formal ethnographic research about how IxDs practice in
the field.

-Jon

On Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 7:01 AM, Dave Malouf <dave.ixd at gmail.com> wrote:

> I know that everything we do is collaborative in that we have to work with
> biz & tech and often other roles of design like visual, copy, research,
> etc.
>
> But my question is how often do you find yourself collaborating on group
> work in your specific role as an IxD or UX designers?
>
> I ask this question b/c when I look back on my work career there were very
> few moments when I did work in a group. I did have reviews with others and
> even worked on the same project at points, but barely ever did group work.
>
> So my question really is, is the focus in design education on group work
> (from what I can see from all the students saying they only have group
> projects) map against the real world practice that these students are going
> to be lumped into when they graduate?
>
> I think I have this aching feeling that b/c of educations shortened
> "product
> lifecycles" (10 wk quarters and 15 wk semesters) that we do group projects
> to get "big results" out of students.
>
> Further, I wonder if we map IxD education too much against say industrial
> design education methods, instead of either coming up with our own or
> looking towards a more appropriate model. Does graphic design edu have as
> much group work? hmm? i think I'll go and find out.
>
> BTW, the last 2 group project classes I did with my students had the
> annoying problem of finding just the right group size for the needs of the
> project. Invariably 2 problems arose for the groups:
> 1) bottlenecks b/c of tools
> 2) students being left w/o enough work to show their participation level
> was
> equal to the rest of the team
>
> I'd be interested in others thoughts regarding this.
>
> - dave
>
> --
> Dave Malouf
> http://davemalouf.com/
> http://twitter.com/daveixd
> http://scad.edu/industrialdesign
> http://ixda.org/
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
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17 Nov 2009 - 9:58am
Mike Musser
2009

Interesting questions. Thinking over the past decade, I'd have to
agree that only a small percentage of work has truly been done in a
group (with all members contributing and co-creating a deliverable).
It's constantly been critiqued and presented in groups, but the
actual creation of a deliverable has mostly been on my own. And as we
look to hire recent grads, I'd much prefer to see work that a
candidate was solely responsible for. It's fine to have a few group
things, but it's hard to really extract the talent and thinking of
that individual from a group project.

As for the education model issue, I grew into IxD from a well rounded
art background (sculpture and 3D design) that has served me well, but
I wish I had more Industrial Design thinking woven in. I'd argue
that IxD education should have three key elements: an aesthetic
component that includes presentation and critique skills of work
created, a methodology component focusing on understanding user needs
and solution creation, and finally a classical design thinking
component that would draw from all design disciplines (graphics,
architecture, industrial, etc.). With these elements I think you'd
get the classic 'T' person that we seek (a person with broad
interest/talents with a deeper skill set in one disciple).

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17 Nov 2009 - 11:57am
Katie McCurdy
2009

This is a discussion I have been having recently with my fellow students at the University of Michigan School of Information's HCI program. In our 2-year Master's program, we do not do any independent design work - all of our design classes involve working in groups of 3 to 5 people. In these groups, because there is usually a tight project turnaround time, we tend to fall back on people who are 'programmers' or 'visual designers' already; so we don't grow individually as much as we might otherwise.

I know I felt disoriented when I went into my summer internship and had to design by myself (with frequent check-ins), and I have heard that other students felt the same way.

Thanks to Dave for starting this discussion - it's great for students to know what to expect when they go into the 'real world.' I am going to bring this to our program's attention.

17 Nov 2009 - 12:07pm
Andy Polaine
2008

I've always worked pretty collaboratively professionally and as
things become ever more complex, I don't see that changing much.

In terms of my own teaching, I get students to do group work to get
them out thinking ruts and also to get the used to working with and,
more importantly, dealing with other people on a project. Even if
you're not working collaboratively, you still end up having clients,
etc. and it's good to learn when you need to make a compromise and
when to stick to your guns.

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17 Nov 2009 - 1:07pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Andy (and everyone else teaching only group work),

Do your students have portfolio issues? First off, it is rare in the
UX community to have group portfolio reviews but in ID it is common
at both regional and national conferences here in the USA at least.
We hear a lot from reviewers of many of our students that too much of
their higher level work is too group oriented and are presented
without a clear definition of "what exactly did YOU do?"

Also, I'm not challenging the requirement of collaboration and
points of group thinking, but that is different than the group
project. That from what I can see happens naturally in the studio
environment anyway. If you have real studio spaces for students to
work in, the "foxhole experience" kicks in. Meaning they all learn
from each other just by being put through the harsh realities of the
short project environment.

Also, I really want to be clear that I am distinguishing between
people in the same exact role working together vs. the very necessary
and very common requirement of biz, dev & design collaborating
together. I still find it very rare in my career even on the biggest
projects of my career where I really did group work with other
designers in the same design role.

Lastly, don't your programs have final project or thesis at the
graduate level? We even have that at the undergraduate level? This is
required so we know that a student is not scraping by on their peers'
shoulders and can do all the roles required of a substantial project.
And should this final project/thesis be the only place where this
work is done? Shouldn't they have practice with issues related to
self-motivated work over group/social-motivated work?

In the end, I feel that there needs to be a balance struck, but am
heavily leaning towards individual work over group work. To me,
school is about practicing hard & soft skills, but hard skills have
to be given more weight over soft skills. Soft skills are skills that
happen throughout your career, while hard skills tend to be learned
and mastered earlier on and supplemented through technological
advancement requirements. The requirement in my mind is to make sure
that every individual student can do all the tasks to the assessment
level required by the program. Group work often lets students fall
too quickly on depth as they can easily find partners to fill in
other areas of breadth.

Great thread ... more thoughts would be great.

Jared in your role as design process researcher, what is your
experience in the group vs. individual designer role per project?

--d ave

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17 Nov 2009 - 1:33pm
Anonymous

For me, interaction design has been everything from group work to truly being "alone" amongst developers, not even with the possibility of quality review from other designers. I luckily have that now, which is something I appreciate truly.

My preferred modus of operation is without a doubt the possibility to work design individually, but draw in other designers for collaborative sessions on a daily basis.

My most creative moments come at whiteboard sessions, thinking out loud with one other interaction designer - and noone else.

17 Nov 2009 - 1:48pm
Matt Nish-Lapidus
2007

In my experience real project work is about 75% individual, and the
other 25% is in groups of 2 people (very occasionally 3 people).

That doesn't include collaboration with people in other areas
(business, dev, etc), I'm referring to actual "group work" done by
a group of multiple designers.

However, in the 75% that is individual, I am rarely completely alone.
There are always peer reviews and input. Also, in the 25% that's
group work, we usually work on independent tasks before coming back
together to combine.

Thinking about it now, I realize that it's not really a hard line
between group and individual work for me.. it's more of a fuzzy
boundary around the amount of collaboration within a single project.
On the low end it is reviews, critique, and other types of input. On
the high end it's shared (or dependant) task and deliverables.

Matt.

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18 Nov 2009 - 2:37am
Jonas Löwgren
2003

The Interaction Design master's program at Malmö University is a two-
year program. The progression looks broadly like this:

semester 1 & 2 (year 1): Breadth. Studio classes on different ixd
genres. Also classes on tools and techniques for design and
assessment, usually integrated with studio projects.

semester 3 (year 2): Design theory. Read-think-write-discuss-reflect
classes on the epistemology of design, on how to communicate design
knowledge, on criticism, etc.

semester 4 (year 2): Specialization. Graduation project with
exhibition piece and thesis.

Admission to the program requires a bachelor's degree or the
equivalent; it is portfolio-based and we intentionally aim for mixed
backgrounds (fine and applied arts; technology; media; behavioral
science; etc.)

Given this, the learning strategy is to work in multi-disciplinary
groups for most of the first-year studio projects. The intention is
mainly to develop skills in multi-disciplinary collaboration. Most
group projects are group graded. There are occasional individual
assignments on top of group work, yielding individual grades. There
are also occasional individual studio projects in the first year, but
not many.

The second-year graduation project is almost exclusively individual.

We find that students generally learn from each other during the first
year and that they are not paralyzed when they have to work on their
own in the graduation project. Most of them handle their individual
limitations in terms of skills and knowledge quite well, by choosing
and planning their graduation projects together with their supervisors
to correspond to what they are capable of pulling off successfully.

Regards,
Jonas Löwgren

18 Nov 2009 - 5:15pm
Margaret Schultz
2009

At my last job, we mainly worked alone. We held a once-weekly
collaboration meeting and that was our time to share what we were
working on, and bounce ideas off of each other for possible
solutions.

But never ongoing, as in two designers assigned to one project.

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17 Nov 2009 - 12:18pm
M Larsen
2009

@dru said: "The "groupieness" will not necessarily be interacting
with a fellow "IxD-er" as I think you both are actually talking
about, but it will mean participation in a group."

In my work with a government contractor, I find this is always the
case. I'm often the only IxD, often the only one with any design
background, but am told to work with a group of 3-5 coworkers. I had
to learn how to work in groups through job experience, but what I've
learned it's not really like any academic exercise. Especially as the
only IxD, I more often find myself in a work group that becomes a
tutorial on design and how one evaluates good or bad design, while
making sure the "students" feel that they are on the same page as I
am (or higher, i.e., when I'm asked to collaborate with a higher
level manager).

My education didn't include many group projects, and when they did
the more experienced professors gave a group grade for the group
projects - you're either teaching the students how to collaborate,
and that's the lesson, or you're giving more work than one student
could complete, and teaching them about work velocity (but that
reinforces that getting credit for work done still comes down to one
person taking credit for any task). I think it's a good experience
either way, but it's important to be sure what lesson you're trying
to teach.

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19 Nov 2009 - 7:39am
EngageMotion
2008

In the past, I've enjoyed working within an "extreme programming"
environment where two individuals collaboratively work on the same
project throughout the entire process. At first this may sound very
inefficient, but if there is a good fit, ideas are fired off much
quicker and more is accomplished in less time. The problem with big
teams composed of divergent disciplines is that in the end you are
still doing the actual work all by yourself...

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20 Nov 2009 - 10:08am
Dave Malouf
2005

I have a new question with group work in IxD.
How do we harness the power of the ego in our work?

I know there is a long tradition of squashing the individual designer
in UX/HCI, but as IxD transitions more towards a traditional arts
design discipline (pendulum swing of the moment so to speak) how do
we encourage, harness, and catalyze the power behind the individual
ego that makes other traditional design disciplines so compelling,
moving and soulful?

Recently through a great group project here at SCAD, I noticed that
we had some amazing egos in the room. They are industrial designers
after all, but the project's success even as a group project seemed
to be based on the reality of the vision truly being owned by an
individual (or two) and then that vision being pushed through,
assimilated by the team, so that by the end of the project, the
ownership really seemed to fall back onto the group again. (not 100%,
but spread enough that the individual got lost again; in a good way).

-- dave

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