Gorilla

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Challenge

Gorilla was an organization that was already employing great design talent, but getting the most out of such a great team meant finding a solution where the power of group thinking could take center stage. Furthermore, design as a discipline was mostly a surface level activity and therefore not really getting to root issues. While the aesthetics were great, the underlying behavior didn’t always add up. In a single track model whereby designers are plugging away at projects individually, there’s not much collaboration happening outside of workload concerns.

Approach

The first step was to make group design activities a normal part of everyday life. That means a set schedule where open projects are reviewed as a team, or at least those that can attend. In this model, people with too many individual tasks were able to opt out and attend the next review. By making team reviews a regular occurrence, all team members end up influencing the project. Even if you’ve never touched a project, you end up influencing the outcome. Furthermore this forces designers to consider informed perspective beyond their own.

The next evolution involved splitting the team into working groups. With each team drawing people from different design disciplines: creative, experience design and content strategy. Teams were responsible for meeting regularly (at a frequency of their choosing) to share workload concerns and talk through upcoming challenges on projects.

Under this arrangement, team members that were facing a tough spot on one project could rely on team members who might be experiencing an inevitable lull in project work. Again, while an individual might be steering a project, the team becomes intimately aware of the details due to such a close working exchange.

The last piece was to invite outside influence in the design process. Too many designers make the mistake of taking their ideas and creating in a vacuum. Gorilla opened the design process internally to people from all backgrounds, development, infrastructure, project management, etc. all have a seat at the design table. In this paradigm, the designers job becomes as much about filtering perspectives into a cohesive solution as it is about making a great deliverable. As part of extending this line of thinking, outside feedback from end users to inform a more iterative way of designing is becoming a much more frequent occurrence.

Outcome

The first and most immediate impact was a marked increase in efficiency in the work. While not the primary goal, it’s important to acknowledge the ability to do more work faster simply because more people are aware of the details and can jump in to help at a moments notice.

More importantly was a marked increase in the overall quality of the work. While the group was proving to be consistently good, the work took a massive leap forward from a purely qualitative point of view. There are a couple factors that contribute to this.

First is due to the natural checks and balances that happen within a team setting, designers, in some cases very junior ones, were able to feel that they had control and a voice in the end product, something that gets lost at times in a more traditional model.

Secondly, again due to the knowledge overlap, all team members became acutely aware that designing based on their own instinct or desires was not going to work. Approaching the group with rationale and some form of validation, no matter how small, became critical in defending the work in a group setting. It wasn’t the idea that seemed the most aggressive that was rising to the top, it was the idea that was most relevant.

The last and most unanticipated impact was the pollination of this concept out to the rest of the organization. In their own fashion, other groups within the company began to adopt similar ways of collaborating. Project management, business development, engineering and support teams all began to move towards similar models that were adapted to their particular needs and ways that suited them best.

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