Collaboration at CapitalCamp

July 26, 2011 | by Asea Ginsburg, Carrie Hane Dennison, Krystee Dryer | Posted in Project Management

On July 22, Balance Interactive’s web development, creative, and content and usability directors presented Design, Development and Content Working Together Harmoniously at CaptialCamp. CapitalCamp is the Washington, DC DrupalCamp - a conference that brings together the local Drupal community for two days.

The three of us talked about how we collaborate throughout our projects. We covered what collaboration looks like at the various phases of a project, as well as what collaboration takes place between our teams.

As the conference went on and the presentation sunk in, it created for some interesting conversations.

Why do you do design last?

Short answer: Because everything feeds into design – user experience, content, architecture, and functionality.

Longer answer: We design with context in mind. Everything has a purpose and design helps bring that together in a visually appealing way. We don’t want to begin the creative design process until everything is ironed out and we know the type of content and functionality we are working with. With that being said, creative direction is established while content and functionality are still being ironed out, but design itself is done quite often after everything has been defined.

Depending on the project, design is often carried over and slightly overlaps with the theming phase where we have to style specific sections of content based on predefined criteria. Despite all that, a site can be built without a design or even a creative direction, but you may be setting yourself in a box that lacks a creative approach.

We have learned that it is better to apply the design when everything else has been finalized. This results in fewer style redos, fewer theming changes, and a smoother process.

Wow, you invite content people to development meetings?!

Yes, we do. And we wouldn’t have it any other way! Back in the old day, the developer tried to figure everything out on her own. That involved a lot of guess work and assumptions. Not so helpful to have several people make different guesses and assumptions. Lots of redos and frustration.

By involving the people who will be entering the content – and possibly making it up – the developers can ask questions and work out the best way to handle different content types, taxonomies, and views. And everything is documented for everybody on the team to refer to later.

Great idea about the collaborative checklist!

To prevent guesswork, checklists – developed for and used by everyone – provide a map of the development landscape. This provides a developer/designer/content specialist-completion trail  for every element so we all know when it is time for the next step. It wasn’t easy to get everyone to the Google doc, but now that they are there, no one is leaving!

Developers are involved at the beginning?

Everyone on our team has input into a project because everyone has ideas. Again, before we collaborated, there were questions, things that couldn’t be done in scope (or at all!), misunderstandings, and lack of creative solutions. Once we started working together, project managers, IAs, content strategists, and designers stopped guessing if something could be done – or how. And developers stopped guessing what all those people wanted.

Developers are involved in the discovery to set the parameters for the build. This sets everyone’s expectations – especially the clients. Scope creep has gone way down. Projects tend to stay within budget. Things get done on time.

You can see some of the advantages of working together – everyone, from the start. It isn’t always an easy road to get there. There are bumps, sink holes, and roadblocks. But if you are committed to navigating them, you can overcome them.

What are ways your team collaborates – or doesn’t? What are the side effects of collaborating or not?


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