Expanding your vision with multidisciplinary teams

This post was originally posted at Vinci.fi

Better questions, wider vision, and more impactful results. To build comprehensive solutions to complex problems, you must find new perspectives on how to face the issues waiting to be solved. Multidisciplinary teams tackle this by combining different practices and providing a more holistic approach to problem-solving.

Great questions lead to great designs. Ok, that’s a relatively simple rule. Just ask the right questions from the right people during the project start and start creating your marvelous product design with your product team. The only problem is that asking these substantial questions is especially tricky.

Designers like me often try to tackle this obstacle with different tools like the 5 whys and questioning techniques like Inversion. These are all good methods, and usually, they lead to decent outcomes. But there is one thing that I find to be the most effective. That’s a multidisciplinary design team.

Power of the multidisciplinary team

I feel privileged, having had a chance to work with several multidisciplinary teams. Teams of people with various skills, experiences, and backgrounds. And a genuinely multidisciplinary team isn’t just a group of individuals with different skill sets – these people are a lineup of experts working together toward a mutually shared vision. They see themselves as equals and feel free to put their views out for everyone working on the same project.

Multidisciplinary teams build a better culture for creative thinking. Through diversity, every team member is working in an environment that motivates them and enables them to learn new skills and methods. In the end, all these integrated skills offer tools for solving the complex problem at hand.

The multidisciplinary approach gives the team a wider vision for the project and its domain. Turning your view from narrow to rounded cannot be overrated. It’s the key to finding those truly valuable questions you need for your design.

You will never know what you don’t know

How often have you been in a situation where you hear a question and think to yourself, “that is something I would have never thought to ask”? Even if you’re a rock star designer or a mythical full-stack unicorn, you are clueless about what you don’t know.

When we are reaching for innovative solutions, the answer usually lies in this blind spot or unknown universe. Our backgrounds, experiences, and disciplines define how vast this universe is and what parts of it are already mapped out. There’s no point in trying to approach this universe alone. You need diverse ways of looking at challenging issues to find the things you need to know.

How it works

Combining different expertise is based on shared principles and trust. How to work together and how to value every co-worker?

People know what kind of experts are on their team. What are their responsibilities, when they are at the strongest, and when they might feel uncomfortable. Everyone is free or even obligated to bring their views and expertise into the project. For this to happen, the team needs to share a common language. Jargon kills communication and might, unintentionally, even bar people from decision-making.

When everything is working smoothly, spontaneous iteration and cultivation of ideas become a natural way of product development. A developer can guide UI designers to more efficient technical solutions. A user researcher might notice that there’s a blind spot in the customer journey. And, when necessary, anyone can point out at any moment that the team has lost focus of their shared goal.

Multidisciplinary teams in my current work environment

For me, thinking about the benefits of multidisciplinary teams feels a bit funny. The main reason for this is that these advantages come almost as a default to me. I work in a flat organization with an inclusive working culture. My colleagues are developers, data-analytics, researchers, art directors, service designers, storytellers, etc. Our clients and their team members are strongly involved in our projects.  This environment motivates me and helps me do better design. And to get a strong start for my design, I’m in a rather good place to find the great questions that are usually really hard to find.

Ten years in design, what have I learned

It’s been more than ten years since I started my professional career as a designer. While realizing this, few thoughts arose. First “damn I’m getting old” and second “I’ve been lucky because I had the opportunity to try and work on with wide variety of things”.

Ten years in design is a real milestone for me. Looking back over the past 10 years. What kind of journey has it been for me and what I have learned. My projects have varied, everything from visual design to service design and from coding (tried it and sucked at it) to design sales. And more importantly I’ve worked with a number of people who have contributed to my professional development and skills.

I have done some spectacular stuff and something I wouldn’t admit was done by me. I wanted to give myself some time to ponder what have I done during these years and what have I learned? What kind of tips would I give ten year younger version of me? That young self-confident guy really needed some of these advices.

Embrace collaboration

You need others to do your best and learn new skills and improve your practise. The value of working with various teams with different type of experts is incredibly beneficial. It tests your social and articulation skills when you need to share and pitch ideas. Working in various teams forces you to test new working methods and gives perspective to your work. 

Collaboration opens doors to multidisciplinary design, which is in my book perfect approach to solve complex problems.

Get things done

Done is better than perfect. People don’t buy ideas, they buy actions and results. 

Finish what you have started. Of course with customer projects but you should also keep the same attitude with your personal projects, studies or other goals, big or small.

Fight against anxiety, distractions and passion to start something new when you haven’t finished previous task is hard. Be sure that you can finish what you have started and get familiar where are your limits in multitasking.

Take it easy

Stress can be a killer. Deadlines, learning new skills and catching up with the new trends all adds stress to your life. You might find yourself obligated to be concerned all these various things. It won’t take much to get overwhelmed.

Being a designer is one of the most exciting jobs in the world, but it’s crucial that you can keep your cool and avoid building a burden you can’t handle.

Loosen up and take some time for yourself. Even a small break from all the hassle will give perspective to your work and everyday life.

Be kind

This last one may sound simple but has to be the hardest thing to learn.

In the end your skills and knowledge are useless if you don’t get along with others. Nobody likes assholes, nobody wants to work with assholes and most of the people don’t do business with assholes.

You should give time to develop your empathy skills. Give your full attention to others, understand their entire message what they are communicating and how they react to your actions. Listening to others is a nice way to start developing a nicer version of yourself.

And after all, being kind will make also you happy!

How becoming a father has affected me as a designer

When I wrote this I have been enjoying being a father for over a half a year. Going from being non-parent to parent has to be the greatest identity change I have gone through. 

My patience has been tested during sleepless nights. I have figured out ways to recognize different kinds of cries from hunger to boredom. The value of alone time has grown exponentially. There is a fresh set of skills on my hand and my mind has experienced an emotional roller coaster. Parenthood touched me as a whole and this new stage of my life has also made significant impact to me as a designer.

So, I’m a dad now. In what way has it affected me as a designer? The list could be endless, but I wanted to summarize this to two most important ones.

Deeper understanding of others

I found that in most cases good design is based on the insight of the people who you are designing for. What are their motives and what are their values. What makes them happy and what keeps them awake at night.  

In my projects I had used user personas of parents. I have examined several economic research dealing with families buying behaviors and I’ve read numerous feedback from moms and dads. Loads of facts and stats relating to parents and families gave me some insight. Still I had no idea what it feels like to be concerned about the health of your child or how powerful emotions can be raised just by smile from cute bubbly face.

Only through my individual experiences I now understand what are the true reasons behind parent’s actions and motives. Right now I possess basic experiences. There are still unexpected moments to happen and things to learn but now I can say “Yes, I know what you are talking about”.

Deeper understanding of myself

You don’t know your limits. Not until you push yourself to them. Becoming a parent gives you an excellent change to find these limits if you have been missing a reason to do so.

While finding your limits might be great, I found even more reward in finding my own life values and motivation. Fatherhood has made me ponder my personal values. How should I spend my days and what kind of impact I want to give through my work. 

I mentioned before that good design is based on knowledge about its users. When I look at the big picture and fundamentals of design, it is clear that design with greats impact needs to be based on a genuine purpose. Why should anyone care about your product or service? Defining purpose and finding ways to express it is hard work. But starting this task becomes much easier if you have at least a faint idea of your personal views and goals. 

I have been victim of forced introspection by my six month old baby. Expanding my knowledge of my own thoughts, beliefs and emotional patterns has allowed me to better understand others.

Never before did I have so little free time and so much passion for inner contemplation. When I was preparing myself for being a father I could only wait for the first one.