Stop - Collaborate and Listen.


In the immortal words of Robert Matthew Van Winkle, this month we want to talk about strength in numbers and what that means for designers.

Interestingly enough, his somewhat original lyrics (set against an absolutely unoriginal beat – we miss you Bowie!) ring surprisingly true as an anthem to a process that creatives are not naturally inclined towards. Collaboration, while awesome as a concept (much like Marxism without all the evil dictators) just doesn’t run in our blood as designers… and why should it? We’ve been taught as creatives, from our very nascent states to even our more matured strokes, that our focus should be 1) to our own craft, 2) on our own growth, and 3) for our own benefit. At no point are we ever instructed to improve and sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves or even someone else.

As a college professor (and an alumni of a design school) I can tell you, academia has made it so that we are seldom given either opportunity of impetus to focus on teamwork during our foundational development.

When you observe some of the most well known visual artists/designers throughout the history of communication, we often see the merits of individual development and achievement in the culmination of a body of work.

But this is a falsity, and while anyone can list off the names of the individual achievers from Joseph Müller Brockman to Stephen Sagmeister, if you really do your homework, you will always see a team, mentor or series of collaborators behind any great creative. Why? Because they all came to the same conclusion: no designer is an island. We need each other to stay fresh, be challenged and told when our eyes are off, concepts are stale, and type needs some kerning. We need experience guiding our naive sensibilities and new ideas challenging older conventions. As iron sharpens iron, the best only get better when they encounter good critiques that either affirm or cause positive change. Conversely, try designing in a bubble and it will ultimately pop.

And the smartest companies to the best agencies are all looking for great designers – but specifically the ones who can make their teams and products even better – it’s a universal truth. They’re just not looking for a superstar, they’re trying to put together the next great boy (or girl) band.

The world of design operates just like the human body. There is a need for a head, arms and legs and every part serves an essential function. We need it now, more than ever. The challenges of the real world and its design needs have gotten way too big for one person to solve.

We present some tips, experiences, encouragements and alliterations as to why collaboration matters. So pause for a minute, come together and open your ears… Spire’s back with a brand new (but not really) invention: teamwork.

Note: Ironically, while Vanilla Ice’s solo ballad about the benefits of collaboration was mostly just him, even Bowie knew that teamwork made things better – the original song was a collaboration between him, Freddie Mercury and Queen.