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Pair Design: How to do it, and our approach

I believe teamwork is super valuable and reflects better results; sharing with others makes us better, and you can see it in the final product because it can take less time and increase quality. What they say is true: two heads think better than one. 

What is Pair Design?

In UX/UI, we’re always looking for ways of working together as a team and as a community. You can see our field heading towards increasingly collaborative work, from the platform we use (Figma, a 100% collaborative tool) to the new up-and-coming methodologies, like, in this case, pair design.  

Pair design is a technique to tackle a design problem in any part of the product’s development life cycle. This method allows designers to work in pairs, share a place (virtual or physical), and work on the same problem simultaneously. It’s better to do it in person, but in today’s world, you’ll probably have to do it virtually, and it works just as fine. 

In IT, they use a ” pair programming method,” where two programmers work together. One (the controller) writes code while the other (the observer) checks every line of code while it’s being written. Both programmers can frequently switch roles. 

To practice this technique, you must follow some specific rules:

  1. Always collaborate and get equally involved in the project. 
  2. Establish complementary roles to generate balance and achieve great results. 

A vital aspect is knowing how to choose the right team members. They need to complement each other and create great synergy. Once formed, one team member will take on the generator role, and the other will be the synthesizer. 

  • Generator: their role is to generate ideas to solve a predefined problem. This person needs to be creative but also able to step away from their ideas, and they need to feel comfortable developing their vision in front of others. The main objective is to devise many solutions for that one problem. 
  • Synthesizer: their role complements the generator. This person tests and analyzes the generators’ ideas, considering their objectives and a clear vision of the desired result. Generators can become intense while creating solutions and lose sight of what the result should look like. The synthesizer keeps them grounded and focused. 

A necessary clarification: one of the two team members must be a UX/UI designer, but the other may vary: designers, developers, project managers, or even researchers can all work together. As long as their abilities and talents are combined, and they can share experiences and points of view, they can achieve great work. The only important goal is for the pair to create and test ideas to make them better and get faster results. 

3 steps to do pair design the right way

To get to work, three key aspects must be clear: Research, Wireframes, and Design + Documentation. 

Research 

This phase is to identify our design opportunities and know what problems we need to solve—knowing our objective and what issue to attack is vital. To achieve this, there must be a meeting with the client to align yourselves, ask all the necessary questions, and set a delivery date. 

During this first step, roles and responsibilities are similar. You’ll be working together to interview the client. It’s important to communicate if you feel stronger in any tasks or methods so that you can divide all your to-dos. One can prep the interviews while the other researches in other ways or one can interview while the other observes and takes notes of the client’s requirements or add extra questions. If necessary, different research methods can be included in the process, like card sorting or storytelling. 

Planning and respecting work schedules is fundamental during this stage. 

Wireframes 

Once you understand what to do, you’ll go into the ideation phase. During this phase, roles and responsibilities start to differentiate a bit more. The generator will create the concept, present ideas, and materialize them for future discussions. Meanwhile, the synthesizer will lead the evolution of the concept. This means asking questions, raising issues, connecting existing ideas, and more. 

Design & Documentation 

In this last stage, the generator creates and delivers high-fidelity wireframes, and the synthesizer documents every design decision and prepares specifications for the delivery. 

During this process, don’t forget you can switch roles, which can be super beneficial. It may be a great strategy to maintain dynamism and give your work a break. It’s also good to know for both team members that if they feel super frustrated or uninspired, they can talk it through and change responsibilities so that the process can go on.

 

“Working in pairs makes both people grow and teaches us to share our successes and frustrations.”

There are several similarities between pair design and other methodologies, such as design sprints or design thinking. Still, it’s essential to highlight that pair design teaches us to work back-to-back with a partner, to be in constant collaboration, and to limit ourselves to the role we were assigned (in case there’s no switching). Plus, you can use pair design within the other methodologies mentioned, and, in my opinion, they complement each other perfectly. 

Design thinking involves many areas of a company and works wonders for long-term projects that don’t have a finalization date. Design sprints are vital when you need to solve a particular problem fast – productivity is maximized, and teamwork is a must. Pair design, on its lane, is suitable for solving a specific problem during a determined amount of time, with two people dedicated 100% to it. What I mean by all this is that you can use all of them simultaneously and make them complement each other in the best way, as long as you follow the standard rules of each methodology. 

Advantages of using Pair Design

This method helps to focus entirely on the task and needs 100% of the pair’s attention. 

It’s teamwork so that one will depend on the other and vice-versa. There’s a commitment and a responsibility to reach a great result in a limited amount of time, so collaboration is essential. 

You get better results faster through partnership. 

You’ll constantly create new ideas, testing and iterating them to achieve better results. 

You’ll be sharing knowledge and experiences. In the best-case scenario, you’ll learn a lot from watching your partner work and be nurtured by someone else’s perspective. It’s important to keep your eyes and ears open; listen and learn. This can benefit the project and also the personal growth of each collaborator. 

Things to consider before using pair design

You need to study this method to know how to apply it. Sometimes we decide to work in pairs assuming we all know how to do it, but be careful: work can get messy and unproductive if we can’t guide it. Don’t forget to plan before kicking off the project.

The staff should go through a tutorial or presentation explaining pair design and how to use it, so everyone is familiar with the method. 

It’s important to understand that this method is not infallible and may not be the best tool for every problem. You need to identify when working in pairs is necessary and desirable. Remember: it works great when you need high-quality results quickly, where you’ll get plenty of ideas, tests, and validation. But, of course, that’s not always the case. 

My views on pair design as a method

In my personal experience, I’ve worked in pairs many times without knowing what this method was. I followed some steps because they made sense but never thoroughly planned and divided roles as pair design teach us. However, I am sure that when I apply this method entirely to my future projects, we’ll be much more effective, and the results will be way more valuable. 

Also, I’d add as a recommendation that, when working in pairs, respect is the most important thing. You must know how to listen and understand that no part of the pair is better than the other but that they depend on each other instead. 

This practice should always be viewed as a learning experience and a way to practice how to execute processes. The good thing is, if you follow the rules, those processes will be better, and you’ll get to see them faster than usual. 

We should all take a chance and work in pairs to keep on creating communities, learn from each other, leave our egos aside and deliver high-quality products while learning how to share with others.