Many years ago, I worked at a very fast-paced agency, and I just couldn't keep up... or so I thought. I would keep showing work in review and getting smacked down. There were a lot of late nights and rework. But there didn't have to be.
One day, my art director pulled me aside and drew the following two illustrations on the board:
The sketch on the right was meant to show our current working process. The copywriter would hatch an idea with me and the art director, and then we'd go off into our separate worlds. Then, right before our review meeting with the team, we'd try to marry up our words and the visual design. Inevitably, things wouldn't quite mesh, we'd show it partially baked, and the work would get spun with feedback.
The braid pattern, shown on the left, was the ideal working process for collaborative making. This gave me time to refine the visual design while the writer could make revisions to their copy or spend more time refining how we could describe the visual design to the client. Also, in an agency setting, it's hard to think of the work as "your design," considering how many hands touch each project. The braid pattern forces you to consider alternate points of view and drop any pretense of ego. (And ego is definitely your enemy...)
In order to form a braid with your design team, you need to establish some very clear rules and stick to them without tension. To do so, you'd need to answer these basic questions:
1. Who is taking what role on the project? If you have multiple writers and designers on a project, divvy up the work with clean boundaries. If you were working on an annual report, one designer may own researching stock imagery to find the perfect photo direction for the photographer, while another designer may spend her time determining the chart styles and proper use of typography in the grid.
2. How frequently will we meet to review the work? Figure out what milestones you'll need before you enter the design phase and show it to your extended team. It doesn't matter how complete your work is, you still show it to your peers with a certain frequency.
3. Who has the final say on the work, and in what context? There must be a determination of who will weave all of those pieces into a final, cohesive vision. Though those decisions won't happen in a vacuum -- they should be discussed with the overall team to ensure that everyone perceives alignment.
Over time, as your team begins to gel, the braid becomes tighter and tighter. You intuitively bounce ideas back and forth from person to person. The work becomes stronger more quickly. Design work begins to be uniformly good, and often great, without a massive amount of struggle.
Keep in mind that the braid is not a substitute for self-critique of your own work. That's what the final part of this series is about.