Natalie Zawadzki, a designer at Invoke, and Dustin Borek, another designer at Invoke, love designing together. Now they’ve teamed up to write about just how much they love pair design.

Increasingly, organizations are demanding wider skillsets – front end devs with design chops; writer-slash-strategists; and the ever elusive “unicorn designer.” (Go ahead; Google it.)

A unicorn designer is one that has UX, UI, IA and strategy skills, among other things, and Google gives you 2.2 million results about them. They pretty much all come to the same conclusion. You can read about how “the unicorn designer is the most in demand and rarest of product team members,” Or if you want to become one you should know that, while possible, “it’s very difficult to pull off.” Want to hire one on your team? You’re about to start on “a year-long search for just such a person.” There is even a website devoted to concept.

Sure, they exist – but they’re rare. So at Invoke, we’ve found found a way to bring the unicorn skillset to all of our projects: we work together.

Pair Design: Bottling Unicorn Sweat

Pair design is when two designers team up to tackle the same project. It allows every project to benefit from the widest skillsets possible amongst our design team. One designer always take the lead position on a project, but this isn’t based on seniority. Everyone is a lead on some projects and support on others.

To all the designers that are reading this right now and scared by the idea of someone coming in and messing up their PSDs, relax. At Invoke, we’ve learned that pair design benefits designers, it benefits project managers, and it benefits our clients and partners.

Informed Collaboration

Even when there’s one designer on a team or project, design itself is a collaborative process. This is often formalized into a series of internal presentations and reviews. Pair design cuts this down.

When you have another designer on the project, they are familiar with the requirements of the project and the brief, so you get informed feedback right away. That means that designers don’t have to wait around, project managers have fewer meetings to organize, and our clients won’t be stuck paying for all the billable hours it takes to bring another designer up-to-speed whenever feedback is required.

Diverse Perspectives Bring Diverse Solutions

Even though all the designers at Invoke have a pretty wide skillset, we all have our own areas of expertise. Pair design gives us the chance to have different strengths brought to the table from your peers. But it’s not just design perspectives that we bring; we all also have our own interests and experiences that shape our approach and ideas. In this way, pair design is especially helpful at places like Invoke, where we tackle different types of projects for different organizations and across different industries.

Designing With Confidence

Having another designer doesn’t just help you quality control; it can help you affirm decisions you’ve already made. When you’ve been buried in a project all day it is easy to start questioning things at a level that you don’t need to question. It’s much easier and faster to have a real conversation with another designer than it is to try to play both roles as you talk to yourself. By integrating this teamwork right into the design process you feel better about your designs and and are able to spend less time spinning your wheels.

Flexibility With Shifting Deadlines

At Invoke we work with everyone from startups looking to get products out the door as quickly as possible to huge brands that need a thousands things all ready at the same time. Pair design gives you the flexibility to shift and focus on different projects as the needs arise.

Did a deadline get pushed up? With pair design, priorities can be shifted so that designers can work on a project at the same time. The work gets done faster, the PM is happy, and our partners are happy too,

What Does Pair Design Require?

It’s vital that you have great relationships with your coworkers and understand the shifting nature of lead and support. That means it’s time to lose the ego; you can’t have too much personal attachment to your work if you’re going to share it. And if you just slam people together it can be very tough to make this work. Luckily, the design team at Invoke has the type of close relationships and good rapport to make pair design work well.

Does It Work For Everyone?

Pair design is definitely great, but it may not make sense for you. There are still solo designers out there for whom an intensely collaborative process just won’t work. You may also have an exceptionally large team full of highly specialized designers. In that case the numbers may not add up. But if you’re a team looking to hire a unicorn, or a designer looking to be one, consider taking a step back for a second and pairing up. You just might make your own.

Background image courtesy of Matt Galisa. Feature image courtesy of owlana.