It's not uncommon for today's designers to work solo, especially freelancers. But placing the creative process on the shoulders of just one person can be a lot to carry and any number of issues can arise for a lone designer to deal with.
It could be a limited skillset holding you back. It could be an 'off day' stopping the ideas from flowing. Or it might be something as simple as missing a proofing error because your eye isn't completely on the ball. Consequently more and more we're seeing collaborations between different designers. Some even work so well together that they establish themselves on a more permanent basis.
I've had the pleasure of collaborating and working alongside a handful of exceptionally talented individuals over the years. Some were just one-offs but others have developed into regular gigs. Establishing a good working partnership can change the way you see your work and can take your practice to a new level.
But how do you go about picking your perfect design partner? Here are three things to look for based on some leading designers' experiences...
- Also read: The best places to do freelance design work
01. Personal chemistry
There are a four important things illustrator Andy J Miller looks for in a design partner, he tells me. "The other designer needs to be complementary to your design approach and style. You need to have personal chemistry together. They need to have integrity. And the partnership should generate excitement in both of you."
In other words, it's less about the bare facts on someone's resume, and more about how you interact personally. If there's no personal chemistry, the collaboration is unlikely to work.
02. Complementary skill set
One thing that's very useful in a design partner is someone who can add to your skill set and broaden your work remit. As Ben the Illustrator explains: "For me, a design partnership is about being able to achieve new things, to create things I couldn't make alone."
Ben often collaborates with his wife Fi for this reason. "I can do illustration work myself so when I work with Fi it's on a product, which is more Fi's direction," he explains. "It's just as beneficial to share ideas as it is to share skills."
Andy J Miller agrees. "Working with a partner means getting to go places I couldn't with my own work," he explains. "When I partner with people with complementary skills, my work always ends up in places it could have never been."
03. Being able to let go
Sharing ideas is a very important part of working with a partner, and so you need to find someone who not just complements your skillset but is willing to relinquish control over a project.
Danish design partnership Hvass&Hannibal are a great example of this principle in practice. "We work well together because we're good at letting go of our individual ownership of ideas," Sofie Hannibal explains. "It's not important if it was me or Nan Na [Hvass] who came up with that particular idea - it's important how we develop it and execute it together."
Sometimes you both might have the same skill set but be stronger in one area than the other, and this is when working together can create a well rounded team, adds Hannibal.
"On the personal level, Nan Na is a bit of perfectionist, in a good way, so I'm always confident that all the details are just right. Whereas my interest is more the overall idea and how the concept is working. But we have a very democratic approach and it's not like we always have the same role in different projects."
Not all partnerships work but I encourage everyone to collaborate with someone at some point in your career. Remember that the perfect partner isn’t necessarily someone who works exactly like you, but someone who can counterbalance what you do.
Approaching a design partnership with an open mind is key, as you'll be letting go of ownership of ideas and direction. Talking to Andy, Ben and Sofie, they all stress how much fun it is to work with someone else and that it enables them to see their work in new and different ways.
Design partnerships can take on many different forms, but trying to seek out some of the common qualities discussed in this article in a design partner will be sure to set you on the path to a successful collaboration.
Words/illustrations: Jeffrey Bowman
Jeffrey Bowman is a freelance graphic designer and illustrator whose clients include MySpace, Playstation, the BBC, Vice and Snowboarder Mag. He recently moved from the UK to the mountains of Norway in pursuit of inspiration, fresh snow and immovable peaks.
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Have you forged a successful design partnership? We'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!