De Coster Lola
Design Management & Cultures
Not every collaboration is deemed to be a success. Sometimes, even after the best first impressions and the promise of an amazing brief, it can still feel like you’re working against the current. I started working for David since I started my studies at UAL. I assisted him on several projects, helped him with his branding, pitches, and proposals. As I helped him for little to no fee, in return, I would benefit from his experience and network. The following blogpost discusses one of my personal experiences and gives some context on the nature complications in such collaborations.
A first determinant aspect is our generational differences: David is in his late 50s, trained in economics and business, and proceeded with design later in his career. His generation is known to be competitive, goal-oriented, and feels comfortable in hierarchal structures. The nature of his education, with his personality, puts him in natural leadership and a dominant position. I am currently training in design thinking and identifying as generation Z. Along with my generation’s trends I tend to value flexibility and ethical design. My studies make me more inclined to be interested in the process rather than the goals. These differences were never striking when we did small projects together, but they became clearer once we started to collaborate on bigger projects.
A factor that enforced these generational differences is the nature of our relationship: I always assisted and helped him complete his briefs. This of course resulted in a client-designer relationship and a natural hierarchical structure between us, he was the one calling the shots and deciding on the outcomes. After my internship I felt more secure in my skills and my role as a designer: I now take more ownership of my work and see myself more as a design thinker and design manager instead of a graphic designer or assistant. My role was still unclear in this project and I naturally broke out of my previous role which David probably did not expect. I hoped David would acknowledge this evolution, but I saw that this shift in how I positioned myself and my spontaneous increase in participation confused him. I was often met with a controlling attitude on his side while also blind spotting me on further developments. Even as I tried to discuss my points of view, I felt increasingly uncomfortable, blocked, and ultimately undervalued.
Lastly, our different views on design and the design process along with current debates. I am currently very involved in inclusivity, ethical and participatory design. I believe in involving the user and a more transparent relationship with the client and a flexible design process that adapts to the evolving need of the client and the user. Contrarily, David follows a strict design process, he makes personas based on secondary research and assumptions, and the user has the right to give feedback after the product is made. This naturally puts the designer in a controlling and dominant position towards the user which I am actively trying to break out of.
While these three factors were never troubling our dynamics in the past, they started to become visible as a gained working experience. These gave me the chance to compare what I already experienced and understand my preferences in the workplace. As I am still navigating my purpose and goals as a designer, I know that this dynamic could have been solved with better communication and transparency on both sides. I could have expressed my struggles with the design process and communicate my views on design in general. Ask him if these were aligned with his before agreeing on collaborating. It is not because a certain dynamic was installed at the beginning of the relationship that there is no room for self-actualization on both sides.