Collaboration - off the page and into reality

Manchester Interantion Festival

Collaboration is talked about in Design Councils recent news & opinion article: ‘Designers of the future: Seven ways to make the best even better’, as one of the seven key skills required for the designers of our future. Wayne Hemingway is quoted as stating: “designers, like sports people, need to be competitive as well as team players.” (Reed, 2015)
In reference to Hemingway’s quote, I feel the unity of skill sets can be both a fantastic opportunity yet at times a challenge. My pervious blog posts document the enjoyment and learning’s I have taken personally from a recent collaborative design brief. This post will document my thoughts and ponderings in response to our successful, winning group been crashed together with another, new and entirely different group.

 Combining our group (Ben, Oli and I) with Daecan and Kasia had initially made me feel frustrated and disappointed. I felt the judges, had moved the goal posts by giving a joint win and further asking for the design to be developed, only undermined our efforts.
What have we won? Every designer who has entered a design gets a ticket regardless of the outcome. It is apparent that MIF and Whitworth see MMU collectively as the designer, rather than our individual groups as different designers.

When at M&S a range of cards and products were presented to the buyer, each designed by individual designers yet presented as one, the buyers would sometimes pick out elements from a few to be combined together to create their desired outcome. Why was this any different then - because we were getting paid? All changes then, were made to reach an end goal beneficial to all parties. The changes requested in this instance, were - keep our design with minor tweets then add D&K's rope stitch as a surface detail. Taking the practical, functional and achievable outcome of our design and adding the theoretical, conceptual and handmade elements of D&K's design.

 The unfortunate reality was a group feeling rather despondent. Who's design is it now!? Who will reference this in their portfolio? Kasia commented that she was initially unsure about accepting the grouping as it was so much of our design, and they were being brought in to add surface pattern!?
In the design Councils article, collaboration is discussed in regard to designers having a sympathy and understanding for areas such as psychology, science and economics. Hemmingway’s quote hits on the problem for me – competitive. We all want to win, and neither team need the others skills sets -we had them covered.
The addition of hand stitch to our design changed it from a time & material efficient mass producible product, into something much more bespoke, original and handcrafted. As Daecan commented, our pairing is the fusion of machine and handmade. For us, ensuring that the hand-embellished design detail became worthy of the time about to be invested was crucial.
The elements added must be reflective of the textile era in Manchester, reflective of the Whitworth Art Gallery and above all obvious to the viewer.

Oli and Ben have put a lot of time into the project while Daexan, Kasia and I have been in Milan. Arriving on Tuesday together for the first time, with the presentation on Thursday looming over the pressure was on.

I have to say this is how I like to work, the group took a while to gel, and there were a few awkward moments when discussing 'your element' 'our design' (still not really able to see it as the groups design yet.) but we did eventually become a unit, after lunch, when we had a plan and each knew what we were doing/ contributing.

 The key learning’s for me from this collaborative approach to work have been:

- I have gained an understanding of furniture design, needed a focus on ergonomics and function as well as form.

- An introduction to new materials and their properties, Stock board, plywood and laminate wood are all very different to paper.

- Initially I'd learnt that not everyone is concerned with surface and aesthetic details and to embrace the new point of view, however, now on reflection that is the element that was missing from our design, so maybe I should have pushed this point.

- Learnt a new aspect of working in a team, having to compromise on our final finished outcome.

I feel our design is like the ‘white blank’ cards I would create M&S. (Creating a innovative white 3D card would enable all greeting card seasons to see potential in the design) Our Bench is a white blank for design agencies; we’ve created a fantastic furniture 'white blank' that each customer could personalize with a wrap over graphic? The next steps for our bench design upon completion of the completion, is opendesk. Stay tuned for developments.

Final presentation day:

Today I realised just how much being around people can lift me and inspire my work. Creating the stitch ideas with Ben, sat on the table while talking and discussing how we should develop the design, together, was fun.
Also, laughter really is a wonderful thing, we have laughed a lot today! Laughter brought a sense of unity to the group and I feel 'we' have created a fantastic final design TOGETHER.

 Ben is so level headed and understanding, I have found his mellow nature and fantastic ability to calm any concerns invaluable. "Yes dear", "breath through your noise dear", "well if you look at it like this instead" - its all fabulous! I want to be more like Ben, and will aspire to become more calm and level headed as I develop into teaching.
Oli is wonderfully observant, noticing when you have put in extra effort and thanking you. Such an appreciative and honest nature you know he is going to tell you his opinion - no bull shit. Happy to disagree when he feels it is for a worthy reason. I hope I am as complementary and appreciative as Oli, it is such a wonderful motivation, you feel good, you want to feel good again, and you work harder next time!
Daecan is keen, very intelligent and super knowledgeable, his approach to design is educated, through and informed. I respect his opinion and point of view often. Daecan is respected within the group and when in Milan his itinerary was as influential as Dave’s to us all.

So final outcome! - More changes! The design is evolving, through trials, and new opinions from lots of people, who all have the ability to sway the final decision. I am not unfamiliar with this level of redesign and amendments; it is the reality of being a designer. Taking suggestions and tweaks from higher management is all part of the process. These changes can happen due to lack of communication, If a brief is too vague, if the client is unable to visualize the outcome and often if the client has a particular idea - quite right yet.

Being able to go over and above and push yourself when you can’t see the end goal yourselves is good preparing for the industry. It is a process.


Reed, B. (2015) Designers of the future: Seven ways to make the best even better. Available at: (Accessed: 10 May 2015)