How to collaborate with other designers successfully

Collaboration is at the very heart of the creative industries. Digital design studios unite front-end pixel shifters with back-end code writers. Image agencies draw together photographers, art directors and lighting engineers. Even on the smallest of print projects, a designer and printer will share a cup of coffee and discuss the most effective use of their skill sets in order to produce the best work possible.

Yet collaborative projects are not just about uniting necessary skills in order to get a job done. Over so many years we’ve witnessed groundbreaking collaborative campaigns that merged mutually exclusive skills because collaboration ignites creativity. And it’s in collaborative projects that much of the most astounding new creative work is to be found. “Collaboration is about allowing yourself to become contaminated with other people’s ideas and visions,” enthuses Bruno Sellés of Barcelona-based studio Vasava. “It’s about getting involved in work that forces you to think and act differently. It’s those unpredictable ideas that are the product of different takes on a common project. Sometimes it takes that clash of personalities, styles or attitudes to come out with something new. Collaborative projects are great playgrounds to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. It’s exciting.”

The creative director of design studio Popular, Peter Chadwick echoes this sentiment. As a designer, Chadwick has produced record sleeve designs over the past 20 years for the likes of Primal Scream, Grace Jones and Girls Aloud amongst many others, and is associate lecturer at Chelsea School of Art. He’s just completed the Desktop Publishing project – a fully functioning CMYK poster-printing table made in partnership with no fewer than nine fellow collaborators. For him, collaboration is about creativity beyond his own, and the enjoyment he finds in working with other creatives.

“It challenges me to think in a different way every time I collaborate with another creative,” says Chadwick. “A different set of questions will always arise when working with someone new, and another point of view from another person is always welcome and revealing on a live project. We work in an opinions-based industry – everyone’s will differ in some way, and that in itself is a challenge. If the collaboration is effective, all parties will be able to bring a different set of skills and points of view to bear that will work harmoniously together. Collaborating also gives me the opportunity to work with a wide range of talented, inspirational and like-minded creatives. I have a list of who I would like to collaborate with. Suffice to say the list is long, and gets added to on a weekly basis.”

Chadwick believes that it is professionalism and planning that make for a strong creative venture, as well as having a solid grounding in basic project management. Sometimes a project benefits from a rigid formula, he says, while for others a freeform creative nature needs to be allowed its space.

“I think all creatives have egos. It just depends on how we harness them,” says Chadwick of the potential for conflict on a collaborative project. “It’s preferable to work with humility and have appreciation for the input of others. If the team has been considered, such egotistical issues shouldn’t arise. But if they do – I suggest a good dose of juvenile verbal abuse to bring said person down a peg or two. Then we can all laugh about it and move on.”

For UK-based music and sound design agency Echoic, collaboration is part of every project. It works in an industry creating projects that always accompany some form of picture or film, and so there is always a partnership between the Echoic team and a visual artist.

“Collaborations work well when the outcome is a distinct combination of specialities from different parties, says Echoic creative director David Johnson. “Something that is stronger because of the talent offered from the various camps. I also think it’s important to talk openly about each other’s work and to cross-feed ideas to each other’s part of the project. We all think differently, and it’s great to hear other interpretations of a project that you may have not thought about yourself.

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