The Power of Two in UX Design

Fields as diverse as science, economics and interior design are replete with examples of the generative powers of two professionals working collaboratively with truly transformational consequences.

Think Crick & Watson the co-discoverers of the double-helix structure of DNA, forming the basis for modern biotechnology. Think Kahneman and Tversky with their new theorems (such as prospect theory and heuristic bias) to challenge and overturn rational decision-making models which have previously dominated the field of economics. Or, why not take a seat courtesy of Ray and Charles Eames one of the most prolific and iconic design partnerships of the 20th Century?

So, it’s in broad agreement then that we know that old adage of ‘two heads’ often being better than one rings largely true, but why should this be?

dna

More complex than it seems

It sounds such a simple question to answer on a surface level, but keep scratching away and you’ll unmask a series of layers of ever increasing complexity. Doing so, your efforts will give rise to such questions as:

How does the process actually work?
What makes for a good power of two?

Are there any environments which are more conducive to productive power of two working than others?

Then, for good measure, add on top of that…

How readily do these ways of working translate into the context of a digital and user centred design approach?

You’ve then got a bunch of questions of truly head scratching proportions. However, these are questions which need tackling if you’re serious about unlocking the power of two’s true potential and draw on its powers to create those new and ground-breaking experiences so many crave.

It’s to addressing these questions that we therefore now turn our attention, alongside the practical considerations, which will inevitably accompany them. So, let's take a look at answering three of the key questions right now, namely:

1. How and when should I be seeking to use the power of two in my digital and UX design activity?
2. What set of interpersonal skills and considerations should I be looking for?
3. What environmental considerations need to be taken into account for this to work? (Not least, given two people working together in this way doesn’t naturally lend itself well towards the layout of the ‘traditional’ open plan office environment!) 

1. How and when should I be seeking to use the power of two in my digital and UX design activity?

There are naturally certain points in the overall research and user-centred design process where the power of two truly comes into its own. Conversely, there are points where it is likely to be more of a hindrance to your project.

These particular points of strength typically coalesce around the key, pivotal points within the overall design process.

Two notable pivot points, which immediately spring to mind in this respect are:

i. Post research analysis and insight making

ii. Giving form to insights through design conceptualisation

 

Dave-and-Matt-from-team-nomensa

 

It can also work great for more strategic and visioning work for similar reasons, but let’s focus on the research and conceptualisation aspects for this blog.

i. Post research analysis and insight making

Qualitative and quantitative research activity, mainstays of typical end-to-end user centred design projects, more often than not result in the accumulation of large volumes of data and research materials.

And, all this data needs to be duly considered and made sense of.

Extracting deep insights and meaning from data, including looking for the emergence of themes, patterns arising from the analysis and interrogation of data is where the power of two truly first comes into its own.

Working collaboratively will allow two experienced user research practitioners to form, present discuss and challenge their hypotheses as to what the data looks to be telling them and the reasons for their interpretations of it.

Engaging in such a collaborative analytical activity is a really magical experience as insights start to take form, giving birth and life to new concepts thoughts and ideas. This inspiration creates the momentum and provides the vital fuel to drive the project forward into its next key pivotal phase - that of translating insights into physical design concepts and conceptual visualisations.

ii. Giving form to insights through design conceptualisation

At this juncture in the process, a power of two collaboration will require a switching over of practitioner skills.

Typically at this stage, one of the research practitioners will roll off whilst the remaining research practitioner (and one with strong conceptual thinking skills) is paired up with a designer who will also possess a strong set conceptualisation skills and experience.

The focus here is now on turning insights from research into design concepts for validation and iteration at a future user testing stage alongside the working up of leading design concepts into more increasingly higher levels of visual design fidelity and interaction design.

Working fast and loose in a sketching and largely organic concept generation process will allow your two experienced user experience practitioners to generate a wealth of potential concepts for refinement and consideration for taking further into that funnelling process as just highlighted above.

2. What set of interpersonal skills and considerations should I be looking for?

At the heart of a truly productive and effective collaborative partnership lie three core elements and the subsequent inter-relationships between them:

• Appropriate skills;
• Requisite experience;
• Open and receptive mindsets.

Like ingredients, these elements blend together in such a way which allows each partner to effectively ‘spark off’ one another, generating insights, knowledge and creative outputs often akin to abductive leaps in thinking and reasoning.

sparks-flying

Skills and experience naturally go hand-in-hand. Therefore experience and domain knowledge are vitally important.

The nature and context of collaboration (as already discussed in point 1) will ultimately determine the most appropriate skills and experience sets ‘for the job’.

Generating concept and ideas from insights derived from research will naturally demand a different blend of skills and experience from that focus more on focusing on meaning and insight making from an exploratory research undertaking.

Comparatively less tangible is the question of appropriate mindsets which will be more conducive towards a successful power of two working partnership.

As in any profession, some UX practitioners and designers will have a more natural pre-disposition and tendency towards effective collaborative working than others. Careful casting to determine who you put together based on their character traits and their mindset type is therefore also key.

There’s no place for ‘win-lose’ mentalities when it comes to effective collaboration. It’s the ‘we did this’ mindset you’re looking for here.

Open-mindedness and the ability to challenge one’s own thoughts and perspectives is fundamental to successful working.

After all, it’s the dialogue of creation, discussion and challenge which will cause each collaboration partner to have to both openly self-reflect on their own thoughts, conclusions and outcomes as well as on those of their collaboration partner.

3. What environmental considerations need to be taken into account for this to work?

So having the right people involved at the right time is a good start, but it won’t get you across the finish line.

It then becomes more a question regarding your physical environment and where you can allow the collaborative work to take place.

Collaborative working is a highly visible activity and it will inevitably produce a lot of visual artefacts, be they models, visual representations of analytical thinking and sense making to various design concepts, or visualisations of future journey concepts, to name but a few.

Finding an appropriate collaboration space where two practitioners can display (and importantly leave out) their workings is therefore critically important.

Likewise, finding somewhere quiet where collaboration partners can work both free from the continual distraction of inquisitive passers-by is extremely important.

Conversely, the highly discursive nature of collaborative working means that if conducted in close proximity to others in the office these conversations will inevitably become overly distracting to practitioner peers and colleagues. Here at Nomensa our offices are designed to support collaborative working with many of our walls doubling up as whiteboards covered in sketches and post-it notes.

two-ux-designers-at-work

This is a deliberate move on the agency’s part as it allows for ideas to flow out of heads and into a physical environment. In doing so ideas become explicit, knowledge is shared and understanding starts to take shape and evolve.

The life-enhancing properties of the power of two

Whilst the power of two is ultimately a means to an end, this end can have truly life-enhancing properties for many and thao exaggeration. No more is this apparent than the utilisation of the power of two in some recent high profile project working Nomensa conducted on behalf the NHS’ Organ Donation Service, resulting in significant increases in Organ Donor sign-ups and conversions.

If you’re intrigued to find out more about its life enhancing properties then have a look at the impact it had on NHSBT.

That’s it for now.

I hope you feel inspired to try out this way of working in a current or future project, or if you’re already using it, to consider the above and see if it can help unlock the full potential of the power of two.

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If you would like to learn more about how Nomensa could work with you to create groundbreaking experiences, please do not hesitate to get in touch via [email protected] or calling us on +44 (0)117 929 7333.

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