Pair design: Guidelines for trying it out in your next design sprint

4 min read
Ross Chapman
  •  May 29, 2018
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When two of you make decisions, create and find content, and put everything together in a prototype, it’s way faster than relying on just one designer—and the end result is much better, too. We used pair design in our recent design sprints, and we think it’s the way to go.

There’s one thing guaranteed about how things are changing at the moment: Things are getting faster.

Design sprints show us that within four or five days, we can test out assumptions with real people—but moreover, that there are ways of working that are massively more efficient.

On prototyping day in our recent sprints, we’ve tried out something new: pair designCooper talked about it a few years ago, but we see it as two designers working together on a prototype, similar to how an editor and assistant editor would work in film production.

Here are a few ways to try pair design in your company:

1. Make decisions first, then fire up the machines

All good designers who prototype know that you should make as many decisions up front before loading up the app you’re using to craft the user interface design. At Etch, we like to start off by sketching with pen and paper.

When we limit the design of a high-fidelity prototype to within a day, those decisions have got to be made. That’s why we rely upon a really good storyboard.

How that works is simple. When we need to make decisions, we step away from the computer, find a whiteboard, and start solving the problem. Maybe it’s working on what has to be on the page and in what order, or possibly it’s understanding a part of the user interface that needs to be made simpler.

Tim and Edoardo pair designing at Etch

2. Assign clear roles

Once we’ve decided how we’re going to solve this, we go back to our desks. We’ve already assigned roles, but I tend to be the content grabber / writer / overview designer and the colleague I’m paired up with (who this week is the very talented Tim Drake) gets on with the user interface.

I’ll sometimes ask Tim, “What do you need?”

He’ll say, “Can you mock up a Facebook event that fits the scenario?”

I’ll reply with “Doing that now.”

Tim building the prototype while I take a photo

And within 10 to 15 minutes, I’ve pushed a design to him and he’s got a screen to put into the user test flow. We’re using Slack to share content at the moment, so I’ll say “It’s in Slack,” which almost always gets the reply of “Thank you!”

Conversely, Tim will ask me to look at something he’s just designed. I’ll ask questions, spot spelling mistakes, and act as a sounding board. I know he appreciates having another eye on it and because he’s looking at the detail, I can assume the role of someone else, ensuring we’re creating what we need to for user testing the next day. A second pair of eyes saves valuable time.Twitter Logo

3. Control time and tackle the hard stuff first

We’ve also started using time more wisely on prototyping day. It’s less about dividing the day into the seven or so screens that need to be designed and more about giving ourselves mini-deadlines to work to.

One tip I’ve learned: Start with the most complex screens.Twitter Logo I thought initially that completing the easiest screens was the most efficient way of getting things done, but you’re probably better off using your energy and enthusiasm in the morning to tackle the harder stuff, completing the less-intensive designs later in the day when energy is ebbing.

The Timer is great for Monday and Tuesday, but what about Wednesday? I say yes.

Design is a team sport

We’re seeing massive gains from using this technique. We’re faster. We’re also happier. We discover together, have a few jokes, ensure we aren’t getting burned out, and we learn a whole lot.

Design is a team sport. It isn’t art.Twitter Logo We’re solving business problems, and working this way adds structure to prototyping that can often, if you’re not careful, take longer than planned.

With design sprints, you don’t get extra time. So pair up and use that time wisely.

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Freehand is the perfect way to collaborate creatively, in real time. It’s now a core part of the InVision platform, living alongside all your prototypes, Boards, and other projects. Get sketching—or commenting, or presenting, or doodling, or wireframing—today, with Freehand.

Collaborate in real time on a digital whiteboard